BOOK REVIEW: iZOMBIE, VOL. 1: DEAD TO THE WORLD by Chris Roberson

iZombie, Vol. 1: Dead to the WorldiZombie, Vol. 1: Dead to the World by Chris Roberson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in page

 

“iZombie” is the story of Gwen, a zombie who works as a grave-digger to allow her access to ethically-sourced brains (at least compared to the alternative.) Gwen lives in the cemetery, has a colorful cast of friends and confreres, including: a ghost, a were-dog, and the odd human being. The niche idea that separates this from the vast zombie lore is that Gwen takes on memories and personality traits of the ex-owner of the most recent brain she consumes. She then uses this knowledge to do a favor for the deceased, be it solving their murder, or otherwise. In this volume, following visions of the deceased family man leads Gwen back to a spooky house that she and her ghost-girl pal had trick-or-treated at on Halloween.

I read this because I was intrigued after seeing the CW television series which is based upon this comic book. For those who’ve seen the show and are wondering, the book and show have very little in common beyond the premise of a female zombie who takes on memories and personality traits of the former owner of the brain she consumes. In the tv series, the main character is Liv Moore, a doctor in the medical examiner’s office, and the series is much more of a police procedural set in a city experiencing a covert pandemic of Zombification. Both the comic and the tv series are light-hearted takes on zombie tropes, but the tv series reminds me more of “Psych” than it does, say, “The Walking Dead.” [An individual who people believe is a psychic, but who solves crimes in another way altogether – i.e. “Psych” with Zombies.] Comparing the comic book is more difficult, but I would say it has a definite “Scooby-Doo” vibe, except the monsters (e.g. vampires) are real and not the scary ploy of a crotchety old man (and there’s a nefarious guild of monster hunters in the mix.)

I enjoyed reading this volume. It wasn’t as satisfying as it could be because it seemed like it was more about setting up a larger story than it was about telling a story within the volume itself. That is, I was left in a somewhat unsatisfied state of having more questions outstanding than I felt were answered. To be fair, there is a story – i.e. an answer as to why Gwen’s “brain of the month” died, but we don’t really know whether that answer can be trusted because we know the responsible party has some (presently ill-defined) ulterior motive. Perhaps, it is just that, as readers, we enter the protagonist’s world “in medias res” and then are given a huge helping to chew on that will not be paid off until later. The combination of these two factors causes the volume’s story arc to get lost.

I enjoyed this comic book, overall. I will make the unpopular and anti-urbane comment that the tv series seemed a bit cleverer and more intriguing to me. That said, it’s an interesting concept and a nice light-hearted read.

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BOOK REVIEW: How To Make a Zombie by Frank Swain

How to Make a Zombie: The Real Life (and Death) Science of Reanimation and Mind ControlHow to Make a Zombie: The Real Life (and Death) Science of Reanimation and Mind Control by Frank Swain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in page

 

The title of this book might lead you to believe that it’s either frivolous or that it’s an examination of a successful sci-fi subgenre. In fact, the book presents some serious (if disturbing, and often unsuccessful) science on two concepts that are disparate except by way of analogy of the Zombie – the brain-obsessed walking undead popularized in film and fiction. Those two ideas are: 1.) how definitive of a state is death, can people be brought back from it, and – if so – under what conditions and at what costs? 2.) is it possible to completely usurp an individual’s will, and – if so – by what means?

The book consists of seven chapters that are topically organized. The first chapter introduces the idea of Zombies, discussing early reporting on them from interested parties visiting the cane fields of the Caribbean. But it also delves into the idea of how drugs and freezing might create temporary death (or the appearance of death) from which individuals can be [partially or fully] successfully roused.

Chapter two explores the history of research about how to bring a deceased person back from the dead. Squeamish readers should be forewarned there is discussion of such things as partial dogs (i.e. the head end) being temporarily revived. The book touches on various ideas related to resuscitation. There is a discussion of one researcher’s study of katsu, techniques used in judo and jujutsu to revive an individual who has lost consciousness [or worse.] Near Death Experiences [NDE] and Out-of-Body [OoB] are also covered. These strange phenomena reported by revived individuals are too common to ignore, but — while they are often presented as evidence of an afterlife and /or the divine, there’s little reason to believe that they aren’t perfectly natural phenomena. [e.g. Neuroscientists are able to induce an OoB with a carefully placed electrode.]

Chapter three shifts gears from the question of death and resuscitation to the one of mind control. While the bulk of the chapter is devoted to pharmaceutical approaches to mind control, it also examines mind control by other means – e.g. authority as an agent of mind control as seen in the famous Milgram experiments, as well as hypnosis. Most of the drug related sections deal with psychedelics (and their naturally occurring precursors.) Swain describes the CIA’s varied shenanigans with LSD in MK-Ultra, Operation Midnight Climax, and the Frank Olsen death. [Long story short, you can’t control someone’s mind with psychedelics, but you can still achieve some despicable ends.]

Chapter four continues the exploration of mind control, but focuses on more invasive approaches — from lobotomies to electro-stimulation. Of course, even as these procedures got more sophisticated, they could still only reliably make vegetables.

If you think the history of lobotomies from chapter four was as scary as it can get, I’ve got news for you. Chapters five and [particularly] six are the ones that I found both the most fascinating and by far the most terrifying. These chapters, together, uncover how mind control is achieved in the natural world by parasitic creatures. Clearly, if there is any risk of successfully taking over a human will, it will not be with doses of Acid or icepicks stuck in the brain, it will be from figuring out how some of nature’s parasitic masters of mind control do it and copying from their playbooks.

Chapter five discusses wasps and fungi that successful take over their [fortunately non-human] hosts. I wasn’t familiar with how many mind-controlling wasps there are, but I had heard of the fungus, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. Said fungus infects an ant, steers it up into a tree, forces it to secure itself by locking in its mandibles onto a branch, and then the fruiting body blooms out of the ant’s frickin’ scull. It’s chapter six, however, where things really get creepy. There’s an extended discussion of rabies, but the wildest part was a discussion of Toxoplasma gondi. T. gondi likes to infect cats, but if it can’t find a cat, it’ll infect a rodent and selectively (not only turn off the rat’s fear of cats but also) make the rat attracted to cats. What’s fascinating is that all of the rat’s other usual fears remain intact (bright lights, sharp noises, etc.)

The last chapter is on the various intriguing things that happen after a person dies — from cannibalism to organ harvesting. I think the most interesting discussion to me, however, was one about keeping a brain-dead accident victim alive long enough that her baby could live to term within her. (There was also an intriguing – if unnerving – case of a mother who wanted her deceased son’s sperm harvested.)

The book’s only graphics are black and white photos at the head of each chapter, but it is footnoted and has a chapter-by-chapter bibliography.

I found this book riveting. I learned a lot from it. The cases are presented in amusing and enthralling ways. If you are interested in the questions of what it means to be dead and how safe your free will is, this is an engrossing look at those subjects. I highly recommend it.

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POEM: A Zombie’s Dilemma

brain

 

I ambled out the gate, down the street, and noticed:

  • Everyone was going my way.
  • Everyone was on foot.

 

Well, you can imagine what I thought,

I’ve fallen in with a zombie horde!

 

But, how to check?

Somehow asking,

“What is your stance on raw brain?”

seemed awkward.

 

So I concluded that I was—unquestionably—among zombies.

 

A sadness followed.

Couldn’t they smell that my brains were fresh, disease-free, and everything a Zombie finds delicious?

Did they know something that I didn’t?

Had my brain gone bad without my knowing?

And how could one ever know whether the thing one knows with is sour?

 

The sadness was short-lived.

A dilemma followed.

For I saw a man walking toward me, against the horde’s flow.

If I didn’t club him in head and try to eat his brain—given his clear unhorde-like behavior–would the horde realize that I was an imposter?

 

If I did… Well, I would be worse than Tom Hanks trying to get into that coconut in “Cast Away.”

Quite frankly, I had no idea how to get to the brains.

Should that be something I should know?

A piece of common knowledge I’d lost when my brain curdled?

 

But the horde didn’t descend on the man.

 

So I concluded it was–unquestionably–a defective zombie horde.

 

And I went about my day.

BOOK REVIEW: World War Z by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

World War Z, as the subtitle suggests, is written as a series of interviews of key (or in some cases typical) people involved in the Zombie War. The viewpoints addressed include various political leaders, military service members of various branches and nations, strategic planners, doctors, and even civilians caught up in the diaspora that resulted from the plague.

The approach of the novel is unusual. To the degree there is a lead character, it’s the UN employee who conducts all the interviews. However, we don’t experience the interviewer’s story arc and are left with very little insight into this individual. Rather, the story is a global arc of mankind’s experience of zombies from “patient zero” through the clean up in the years following the war. And, it is a global tale. The stories of these individuals take one to places like Chongquing, Meteora, the Amazon, Barbados, Johannesburg, the Alang ship breaking yard (an excellent choice for a post-apocalyptic setting, I must say), Denver, and even onto a ballistic-missile-toting submarine sitting on the ocean floor.

Where Brooks’s book excels is in making one think, and in that regard it does an excellent job. This isn’t about edge-of-the-seat adrenaline injections to which most Zombie book authors aspire. I don’t deny that there are emotional parts to the book, but the tension is reduced by virtue of being a collection of survivors’ tales. That is, we know the story-tellers survived more-or-less intact. Also, because of the intrusions of the interviewer and the authenticity of responses (some are more skilled and open story tellers than others), we never lose sight of the fact that this is a couple of people talking war stories.

That being said, we take a cook’s tour of gut-wrenching food for thought over the course of the novel. Consider a government that abandons its citizenry, and even uses some as bait to help save others. Brooks tugs at the readers’ heartstrings through an interview with a K-9 soldier who describes the role of man’s best friend. Brooks portrays the best and worst that mankind has to offer–as one would surely expect to experience them in such a world gone wrong.

I must admit, some of the topics may be more interesting to me as a social scientist than they will be to others. One interviewee discusses the mismatch between job skills needed and job skills available in a rapidly evolving post-apocalyptic landscape. This speaks to present-day society as much as it does to a dystopian future. The author devotes an interview to questioning the man responsible for reestablishing trust in the dollar in an economy that has by necessity reverted to barter. There is also discussion of revolutions in governance that find their catalyst in the Zombie War. There are intriguing turns of events such as the makeshift flotillas of U.S. citizens converging on Cuba because Fidel’s authoritarian regime was uniquely prepared to close itself off during the earliest days of the outbreak.

With the movie coming out this Friday (June 21), I will say that I can’t see much in common between the book and the trailers for the movie that I’ve seen to date. However, I can imagine the movie being an extension or outgrowth of one of the many vignettes expressed in the book. This is not to say that the movie will be bad (or that it won’t be), but if one sees the movie one will still be left with impetus to read the book.

I enjoyed World War Z because it makes one think–a feat that isn’t the strong suit of Zombie literature.

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Sharing Stories of the Plaguepocalypse

[I’m recycling this from a Figment competition that I once entered–and lost.]

Day 100, Post-Apocalypse

Day 100, Post-Apocalypse

JB and I worked tediously to find and repair damaged insulation on the main from the solar farm down to our bunker. Breaks or cracks in the insulation meant lost energy that we could not afford, but we had to bury the cheap cable available to us because the Mojave sun degraded it too rapidly otherwise. Burying the line invited a whole new problem because burrowing critters then began to gnaw on it. Whenever there was a power drop, two of our trio had to come out and do line maintenance.  Output should have been at its maximum given it was mid-day during the hottest time of year, but, instead, we were experiencing a sixty percent drop in power.

We wore white from head to toe except for a slit in our ninja-like masks where sunglasses covered the unclothed region and protected our eyes from the harsh rays and glints.  This had always been a harsh land, but changes experienced in recent decades made it far hotter.  I sucked a mouthful of water from the bladder that lay next to my body under my baggy white clothes. The water was hot, like a freshly brewed cup of tea—sans the tea.

“Son-of-a…, sweat is stinging my eyes,”  JB said as he removed his sunglasses, and blotted his eyes with his sleeve.

“Put the shades back on. We can’t have you getting burned retinas,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah, if I go blind who’ll come out here with you to dig up line?” JB’s reply dripped sarcasm.

“Exactly, now you’re getting it,” I said.

JB wiped his eyes once more, and then put the glasses back on. Without the shades, the surroundings looked like the Mars of old movies – cast in a reddish hue.

“I think I’ve got it,” JB called out.

“Looks like it,” I replied, leaning over to look in JB’s newly-excavated hole.

A mole rat skeleton had its teeth buried in the insulation.

After removing the rodent, patching the insulation, and putting the sand back, JB and I walked back to the hatch of our bunker.

JB crouched over the opening. He touched the metal lip of the hatch and immediately yanked his hand away while screaming an expletive. The gloves were not thick; they were for keeping the sun off the skin while holding in as little heat as possible.

JB called down the shaft, “Brit!”

“What ‘cha want,”  Brittany replied.

“How’s our power level, we pulled a fried mole rat off the line,” I asked.

“Yum!…,  The power is back to normal,”  She called back.

I followed JB down the long ladder into the bunker. I pulled the hot hatch closed behind me and secured it against some unlikely foe.

“We need to protect that line somehow,” I said

“I’m just glad we didn’t have to hump out to the transmitter. The last time it broke down I was loopy with dehydration by the time I got back. You sure this is the only place for us to live?” JB said.

Brit came in with two cups of water and handed them to JB and myself.  She said, “I’ve got the loop broadcasting again and the receivers are turned up loud.”

“If you can come up with someplace else where we can tap into the energy necessary to keep broadcasting, I’m all ears,” I responded.

“That’s just it. We’ve been broadcasting all this time, and we’re not getting any reply,”  JB said.

“We also don’t know whether this climate is responsible for our good fortune,” I said.

JB had no response.

“Good fortune? Oh, my, I feel like such a princess.” Brit said curtseying with her fingertips bunched up and wrists kinked as if she were holding up a skirt.

“I mean being alive,” I clarified.

There was a silence.

Brit spoke up, “Remember people?… I love you guys, but I’d give anything to meet a stranger. Remember the last time you saw a crowd of strangers.”

 

I did, indeed, remember.

I was planning on going to Union Station to get out the Los Angeles. Before I left my apartment, I saw a news story showing the train station among all the other avenues of disembarkation that were thronged with people.  The streets outside the station were flooded with a throbbing, undulating mass of humanity. As in the mosh-pit of a rock concert, there were two primary classes of people: those who were screaming and those who were suffocating. Mixed in among these were glassy-eyed souls who had the good sense to realize they were the walking dead, and to behave accordingly.  There were images from packed train-less platforms, and the grandiose cavernous waiting area.

I packed my gear and donned boots so as to be prepared to hike out of town if necessary. It proved to be a wise move, because I when I arrived at the train station the wall of humanity was impenetrable.

I hated crowds. Crowds were noisy, hot, and chaotic.  My hatred of crowds saved my life. Nature has its weird ways. I had once read about ants that could take down a fully grown cow. They did this by covering the animal benignly, and then, upon a release of a pheromone from the ants on the creature’s head, they all stung at once. This malady, a hemorrhagic fever of some sort, was similarly impossibly intelligent and geared toward wiping out the entire species. It seemed to know when its victims were within a crowd, by what mechanism I cannot imagine, and it would then send them into sneezing and coughing fits that propelled droplets of virulent blood in a fine mist to those all around.

Now I missed crowds, because they were a sign that one’s species wouldn’t die with oneself.

JB and Brit had taken to telling each other their own last crowd stories, which we’d heard before. We’d heard all of each other’s stories.

Well there was one story that I kept for myself. It was the story of the day before I met up with Brit and JB. It was my nadir.

I had been hiking east from the city. My path merged with the I-40 corridor, and it was the most horrific day of my life. I’d always been an avid hiker and had spent long periods on my own before, but these times of solitude were without signs of humanity. As I came upon I-40, there were people all around -in cars and on the ground, but they were all stiff and had rivulets of brown or red running from their noses, mouths, ears, eyes, and presumably the unseen orifices.

When I saw a monastery on a hillside, I thought I was saved.  Surely the isolated monks or nuns were safe and would help out a weary uninfected traveler? I found an old stone church that was post and beam on the inside. Anyway, my hope faded when I found the pews had been used as hospital beds, and all, patient and caretaker alike, were bled out. The only signs of life were rats on the floor, weeds in the mortar joints, and birds in the rafters. That was my moment of greatest loneliness, for if God had abandoned his own house, what hope was there for me.